Ben Tate is a good signing, but not without risks

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Ben Tate seems intent on making friends in Cleveland. Since his deal with the Cleveland Browns got close he’s taken to social media to ingratiate himself to the Browns faithful. It’s pandering, but in Cleveland it’s much appreciated by the fans. It’s a strategy for a player that works just fine, but I hope Tate realizes that it eventually has to be backed up with actual play on the field. For the Browns, signing Ben Tate is a good move, but it isn’t without risks. No, the two-year commitment and estimated $7 million aren’t a problem at all, at least not in theory. The problems arise if Tate isn’t able to become the featured back the Browns so desperately need.

Signing a player isn’t always about the salary. Every player on the roster — regardless of the salary cap value — represents an opportunity cost to the organization. When the Browns chose Ben Tate over the weekend, that meant they chose him over someone else. In previous seasons when the Browns chose Montario Hardesty, they did so at the expense of another player. I don’t want to compare Ben Tate to Montario Hardesty, but Browns fans’ lessons are instructive: When Hardesty showed flashes of ability or flashes of “Spins McGee” it represented lots of waste. It was a waste of hope; it was a waste of attempted continuity. Even if the money wasn’t detrimental to the Browns, by wasting reps on a failed second-round pick, the Browns were also wasting reps on their franchise left tackle Joe Thomas, not to mention a weary fan base.

While it’s nice that the Browns have only committed a small amount of money to the Ben Tate experiment, it’s still scary to see his injury history, including missing two games in 2013. It’s not terrifying of course, but still something worth noting. Hopefully Ray Farmer doesn’t stop at Ben Tate. The Browns have Tate, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and ten draft picks in order to help mitigate the risk of having as pitiful a running attack as what the team showed in 2013.

I don’t mean to be such a downer with what appears to be a good signing by the Browns. I love the energy and attitude that Ben Tate is bringing already. I’m hopeful that this compact, thick, powerful runner can step outside the shadows of Arian Foster behind a Kyle Shanahan zone blocking scheme and prove to be all the running back Browns fans wanted Trent Richardson to be. It really is a great bet by Ray Farmer and Ben Tate to come together in Cleveland for this deal.

But, as someone who has followed the Browns as closely as anyone since 1999, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least suggest that the Browns need to never be satisfied even in the face of what appears to be a decent solution. Here’s hoping they become one of those NFL teams that finds running backs emerging from every corner of this off-season.

Image: Ben Tate/Twitter

  • LaundroMat

    “It’s pandering, but in Cleveland it’s much appreciated by the fans. It’s a strategy for a player that works just fine…”

    Why must it be that he’s pandering and employing a strategy? It couldn’t be that he’s actually excited?

  • Chief Blahoo

    I agree it’s a very good signing. I think that Tate at this point in time is a better RB than Foster, with all of the carries and injuries he’s taken. Tate has been hurt too obviously, but he hasn’t had nearly as many carries as Foster. Of course we’ll need to ensure we have good backups for Tate, with his injury history.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    2010: broken ankle;
    2011: hamstring;
    2012: lingering hammy, head, and toe;
    2013: ribs.

    im inclined to look at bone breaks as one-offs that can happen to anyone. hammy is either lack of training/stretching.

    but there’s nothing here like the two knee surgeries hardesty had when we drafted him or a heart abnormality like desmond bryant when we signed him.

    hell, it looks like his original ACLs are even intact.

    i’m not buying the ‘injury risk’ narrative on tate. i’ll call him unlucky with injuries in the past and about to get lucky..

  • LilBoyBlue

    Can we feel good about something for 24 hours before pessimism creeps in? No – no we can’t.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The contract given to Tate minimizes any risk IMO so other then the usual Browns fan angst I don’t get the point. They needed a RB they signed a young guy who due to an injury past has a lot of tread left on his tires. Perhaps a new place will help to act as even more motivation besides the contract he just signed. The fact that it was just a two year deal leaves both sides with options.

    All that said I still predict the Browns draft another RB.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I liked the signing the contract minimizes risk as I said prior and I still believe they will draft another RB. More importantly the addition of Tate who is reunited with Shanahan and his offense probably means they will address the offensive line. At least I hope so anyways. Resigning Mack would go a long way in that effort. Lets hope Mack reconsiders.

  • toledo

    He never actually played under Shanahan. Came in year after.

  • Daniel Van Meter

    Dion Lewis and Ben Tate make an great one-two combo. What I would love for the Browns to do is use an 4th or 5th round pick on Jerick McKinnon from Georgia Southern. That would create three solid RBs for the Browns’ offensive system.

  • James Workman

    Broken bones tend to be an acute or flukey injury while repeated soft tissue issues might indicate something more chronic. As for missing games last season, he played through the same injury and was quite productive. He finally decided there was no point in pushing it further with the season lost. I am not worried.

  • Eric G

    “I don’t mean to be such a downer…”

    Well, you didn’t succeed

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I’m glad he’s excited, I found him putting all three Cleveland team hats on to be a bit over the top and pandering. I’m happy he’s making an effort.

  • Rudy

    OK, good signing, who’s next?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Joe Haden has uniforms for the other teams so Tate ain’t that bad, yet!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well perhaps he played under Shanahan’s system then I know I heard Tate = Shanahan somewhere.

  • Harv 21

    He doesn’t seem to be a home run threat but looks like he has a low to the ground, decisive style that should play well on frozen fields. If he can stay healthy that far into the season.

    But the question is never whether a FA signing is devoid of risk. Under your definition there’s no such thing unless he was a street free agent at league minimum salary kept at the expense of a proven veteran, or something like that. The real question is whether it’s a smart risk, and it sure appears to be. He didn’t sign for established 25 year old feature back money because the market acknowledged his injury absences and never having carried a starter’s load. If he plays 12-13 games and averages 4.5, and if like so many other teams the Browns unearth a competent back to spell him, it’s fine. No, it’s more than fine.

  • Jaker

    Can’t we just enjoy this?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Gary Kubiak of the Texans was a Broncos coach from 1995-2005 including some time as Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator. His immediate job before the Texans was running Mike Shanahan’s system for him in Denver.

  • Sam Gold

    “…but I hope Tate realizes that it eventually has to be backed up with actual play on the field.”

    Really?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    To be fair, Cleveland fans KILLED LeBron for wearing a Yankees hat, so, I’m not gonna kill a guy for trying to fit in and get the fans excited. These are the easy things that athletes tend to overlook.

  • mgbode

    actually, I found that he tends to run somewhat upright but was good putting the shoulder down when necessary. I’ll look back further than last year to see if it was just his rib issue causing the style, but it’s what I had remembered (or thought I had) from previous years.

  • mgbode

    Craig, it’s a good signing. There’s no “but” in the statement. Tate signed a reasonable deal and he will be the best talent at RB that we have had since Jamal Lewis (and possibly more as Jamal was on his last legs).

    If Farmer doesn’t continue to look for RBs, then the hasn’t looked at Tate’s medical records or the medical records of RBs in general. It is a brutal position to play and injuries should be expected. We need more than a bunch of guys who are slightly better than the waiver-wire RBs. But, that has nothing to do with this signing. It was good.

  • Harv 21

    maybe you’re right that his torso is relatively vertical, and what I really mean is that he takes smaller, very balanced steps. I see him as a one-cut guy, a potential mudder. Very few backfield dancers – Barry Sanders, Greg Pruitt – really excel in the slop and ice.

  • bupalos

    It’s a really good point that type of injury does matter. Ankle and knee ligaments worry me the most. Broken bones? Not so much. Spins McGee was a giant red flag. With Tate I think this is getting overdone.

  • bupalos

    I won’t go to the definition of pandering one way or the other, but the fact is that doing whatever it is he’s doing shows he cares about his new job and new team. It’s a big plus that doesn’t deserve the stinkeye you’re turning on it. Not at this point.

  • mgbode

    yes, agreed. he waits for a hole, but then attacks it when he sees it and doesn’t question his decision. he is definitely a 1-cut guy.

  • mgbode

    I agree to an extent. It’s not as worrisome as the oft-recurring injuries, but some guys just get hurt easier. see currently: Andy, Kyrie

  • bupalos

    You bring up opportunity cost and Brown’s running backs and Spins McGee is who comes to mind???!

    We’ll be paying a certain unnamed dancing bear just about as much as Tate this year to “run” for another team.

  • mgbode

    Does anyone else remember when Craig was WFNY’s resident Browns’ Optimist?

  • thorsmjollnir

    I’d rather get more offensive lineman than more running backs.

  • James Workman

    This is true.